September 15, 1963. I turned four years old that day in Omaha, NE, a long way from Birmingham, Alabama. I lived with my parents, my two brothers and my sister in a green rented house. I knew nothing about Sunday School and church choirs and youth groups. I was woefully ignorant of the Bible. My parents did not voice the discontents of Black and Brown people. They didn’t tell us about the four girls who died because they went to a Black church one Sunday morning in their beautiful dresses. They never told us about how much the White world hated us because we were born with Black skin. They were busy doing life with four children to look after. My mom was a regular housewife who watched soap operas and talked on the phone with her sisters. She cleaned the house and did the laundry and cooked the food and took care of us. Daddy went to work, like many fathers did. We didn’t know that 1614 Victor Avenue was in North Omaha where all the Black people were forced to live because of segregation. I wonder if they saw the story in the Omaha World Herald or watched it on our small black and white TV. Maybe, but we didn’t talk about it at the dinner table. Now I’m glad we were sheltered from the hate. I was a child. I didn’t have the capacity to carry the burdens of hatred: riots, Black bodies hanging from trees, bombs and innocent blood spilled without remorse.
On September 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14), went to Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to celebrate Youth Day with “singing songs, reciting poems, praying, and giving encouraging messages in front of hundreds of beaming parents” ( The Color of Compromise, page 13). They were in the church basement, four girls preparing for an ordinary Sunday, with nothing more on their minds than the celebration ahead. The bomb exploded, killing them instantly. Why did this happen? Why were four young, Black lives destroyed? Because Black lives didn’t matter.
Charles Morgan, Jr. made a speech the day after at Birmingham’s all-white Young Men’s Business Club. His reflections touched me, though they earned him death threats: “Who did it? Who threw that bomb? Was it a Negro or a white? The answer should be, ‘We all did it.’ Every last one of us is condemned for that crime and the bombing before it and a decade ago. We all did it.” He recognized that no matter who physically planted the dynamite, “all the city’s white residents were complicit in allowing an environment of hatred and racism to persist.” (page 14) What is most striking is his observation: “It is all Christians and all their ministers that spoke too late in anguished cries against the violence. Did those ministers visit the families of the Negroes in their hour of travail?…Do they admit Negroes into their ranks at the church?”
I have taken the space to quote this young man verbatim because his words convey an important reality: the environment of hatred and racism was allowed to continue unabated, helped along by the silence of those who believed in Jesus, those who could have made it their mission to put a stop to it, by welcoming Black lives into their lives and speaking out against racism. But believers stood by and watched as Black lives were treated like trash. It is not enough to talk about being equal. There must be action to stand up against the darkness. This is spiritual warfare and the way to win is with the armor of God, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The Color of Compromise is one of the many books I’ve read. In it, Jemar Tisby writes a comprehensive history of the Church’s complicity with systemic racism. I highly recommend it.
White Christians wept that awful day, but they failed to see that they could have stopped it by creating a loving society where God has the supremacy. My dear ones, I’m certain you believe that Black lives matter to God. We must join together, all races, in the unity of God’s love and become the powerhouse the Church is supposed to be.
Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. Colossians 1:18